A Moral Civil War

By continuing to withdraw his administration from the spirit and letter of human rights and global law, President Bush is seceding from the rest of the world. Through a moral equivalent of Civil War, we must prevent this secession from taking place.

If we agree with the terse thesis of Francis A. Boyle – that the Bush movement constitutes "a comprehensive and malicious assault upon the integrity of the international legal order" – then the muscle of the Bush grip at home is connected through sinews of illegality to the trigger finger in Falluja. The bad news about Bushist secessionism is that principles of law are under attack at home and abroad. The good news is that principles of resistance can be welded together. From every node of resistance, we can forge ladders of international law, the better to scale collectively the walls of fortress Bush.

Bush has appropriated enormous power from the government of the U.S. as he belittles "focus groups" at home and "international tests" abroad. When millions of Americans hit the streets pleading with Bush not to pursue a literal war on terrorism, Bush called the protesters nothing but "focus groups." When his campaign opponent said that presidents should respect international law, Bush scoffed at the concept of an international test, saying quizzically, "I'm not exactly sure what you mean ..."

In a moral equivalent of Civil War, Bush's belligerence toward international law is cultural heir to secessionist governors in the American South who once scoffed at federal authority as stridently as they cherished their own authority over others. (No wonder, then, that black voters in America today are 88 percent likely to vote against Bushism. Why Jewish voters also refuse to be drawn into BushWorld speaks to longstanding filiations, I think, between Dixie and Nazi ideologies.) At home and abroad, we can speak with converging voices if we demand reconciliation between the Bush movement and obligations of international law.

At home, Bushist secessionism attacks Constitutional rights and liberties that have won international standing as human rights and liberties. Respecting women's reproductive rights, or the rights of people to form their own families, plain-speaking Bush refuses to speak up. Regarding rights to due process, open records, and free speech, the warm-faced president works with bone-cold hands.

As for Iraq, argues Professor Boyle, laws of war compel definition of U.S. soldiers as "belligerent occupants." So long as these soldiers remain in Iraq, they should take no actions that would contravene Articles 42-56 of the Laws of War as adopted at Hague II.

Yet, Globelaw editor Duncan Currie notes with concern that, "incidents have been reported to have been initiated by the coalition forces involving civilian casualties, including the bombing of a Syrian bus, use of cluster bombs, destruction of electricity supplies leading to disruption of civilian water supplies, attacks on Iraqi television stations, on Al-Jazeera and on the Palestine hotel, on markets at Al-Shaab and Shula, on civilians at Nasiriya and Hilla, on a van at Najaf, shooting at ambulances, and shooting of protesters."

"In addition," continues Currie, "there have been reports of a failure to restore water, electricity and other humanitarian needs and encouragement, toleration and failure to avoid looting, including of nuclear installations. State responsibility and individual criminal liability for these and other actions has yet to be determined. Any responsibility or liability assistance after the fact of other States or individuals or the adoption of these acts by other States, or the actions of States as belligerent occupants in Iraq, could be determined by the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice or an ad hoc or arbitral tribunal."

Currie's allegations were made in May 2003, within weeks of the invasion. During that same month, Leah Wells of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation questioned U.S. intentions for Iraq's water. She worried about water privatization. More recently, Daniel O'Huiginn in behalf of Cambridge Solidarity with Iraq (CASI) has documented allegations that water cutoff has been used as a weapon. Yet, people have rights to water. Here is another area where Bushist secession from international law must be stopped.

Naomi Klein also appeals to international law in her muckraking review of the Bremer administration, published in Harpers. When international law declares that belligerent occupiers are supposed to treat occupied properties as "private" – that means treat the properties as if they belong to the people who live there. But in sinister misappropriations of legal spirit, the Bremer occupation "privatizes" Iraq and puts it out for bid. The legal obligation to "usufruct" is replaced with a license to usurp. As a result, writes Klein, "where economic reforms were introduced at their most shocking and most perfect, they created, instead of a model free market, a failed state no right-thinking investor would touch." International law (go figure) may offer a better structure for doing business than Bushist secessionism.

Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF) brings news that one American innovation in Iraq involves "a system of monopoly rights over seed." The FPIF discussion paper appeals to international rights of "food sovereignty" – the right of a nation, "to define their own food and agriculture policies, to protect and regulate domestic agricultural production and trade, to decide the way food should be produced, and to determine what should be grown locally and what should be imported."

Since Americans have been told very little about the privatization of Iraq, the population of the U.S. is little prepared to empathize with righteous indignations that Iraqis feel as they witness their own country sold out from under their feet. Neither can the average American understand the aggravation that must be provoked among Iraqis watching Bush play to global cameras with his schtick about American gifts of freedom and democracy. For Iraqis, a big schtick, indeed.

At least 56 million Americans, however, are open to suggestion that something about the Bush agenda is headed in the wrong direction. Bushist secessionism declares a civil war that we have no choice but to stop. Both at home and abroad, a unifying theme of struggle may be found in a call to restore BushWorld to a global sovereignty of rights and laws.

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